What are the Scientific and Technological changes that made the industrial revolution possible?


For a fuller understanding of the industrial revolution it is desirable to have an idea about the various scientific and technological changes which made the industrial revolution possible. Some of the important scientific and technological changes were as follows:

1. Invention of Steam Power.

The invention of the use of steam was one of the most revolutionary discoveries which greatly facilitated the adoption of the machine methods of production. Prior to the discovery of the system power also machines were in use but the progress was rather slow due to lack of good motive power. These machines were worked on water or wind-power.


While the use of water-power suffered from restricted supply and con­ditions of place, the wind was an unreliable source of power. The dis­covery of the steam power solved this problem. It was independent of the weather and was also not limited by conditions of place. Steam power could be generated at any place and in any quantity according to the re­quirements.

The steam power not only proved helpful in running the machinery but was also used for numerous other purposes such as pump­ing out water from the mines. This was made possible with the help of an engine designed by Newcomen.

This engine was further perfected by James Watt and it was possible to turn wheel and drive machinery. It may be noted that at this stage the machines were made by blacksmiths, wheel­wrights and carpenters, who were not skilled engineers. As a result quite often their machines could not work effectively. This difficulty was over­come through the efforts of James Watt, who created a nucleus of skilled engineers to ensure accurate workmanship.

2. Use of Iron and Steel.


The introduction of steam-driven machinery also made it desirable that the wood machinery should be replaced by machinery made of some durable material, and naturally the use of iron was thought of.

But as iron was not available in sufficient quantity an effort was made to increase its production through the use of cooking process. This process was discovered by Abraham Darby an English iron­master and soon came to be widely used. In 1829 Nelson invented a hot blast which made the use of raw coal, instead of coke, possible for the manufacture of iron. This invention greatly helped the growth of iron industry of Clyde.

The metal industry made yet another break through with the discovery of cheap methods of making steel, which was superior to iron on account of its lightness, hardness and durability. The cheap method of making the steel was first adopted by Sir Henry Bessemer in 1856. However, this method suffered from a serious handicap in so far as it could be applied only to ores which did not contain phosphorus.

This defect was remedied in 1878 by two English chemists-Thomas and Gilchrist, who found out a method of removing the phosphorus from the ores by lining the converter with manganese. As a result of the availability of cheap steel, it soon displaced iron in most of the industries. It particularly proved quite useful for the making of rails, building of ships and construction of factories and dwelling houses.


3. Development of Coal Industry.

The increasing use of steam power and iron and steel necessitated the development of coal industry. In fact the coal and the iron are the two foundations of the modern industrial society and a country lacking in either stands at a disadvantage.

It is well- known that France could not make much progress in the field of industrialization mainly due to lack of sufficient quantity of coal which obliged her to persist with the antiquated methods of production of iron for a long time. On the other hand, Britain and Germany were more favourably placed in this regard and naturally stole a lead over France despite presence of rich iron deposits in that country.

4. Changes in Means of Communication.


In view of the industrial changes and increased production need was also felt for changes in the means of communication. In 1797 Richard Trevithick produced moder­ately successful road carriages. Subsequently he thought of applying his engine to the works railways.

In 1804 he used a locomotive on the Peny Darran line which could pull 10 tons of ores and 70 passengers at the speed of five miles an hour. However, as the engine was not powerful enough efforts were made to make it more powerful. Ultimately, George Stephenson attained success in this regard. A little later the idea of a public railway was mooted.

A line was provided on which anybody could use his own carriages by paying a toll. Between 1800 and 1820 about 200 miles of such rail lines were in operation in Britain. They were mainly used to carry some stone and lime.

Simultaneously efforts were also made to effect improvements in road and inland waterways. Though efforts to improve the roads started in the middle of the eighteenth century. As a result of constant encouragement from the government a number of improvements were effected. Turnpike Trusts were formed to improve the condition of roads. John Macadam, a Scottish engineer, discovered the use of small stones in the building of roads.


Telford and Metcalf, two other engineers also made valuable con­tribution to the improvement of roads while Telford attained fame for fair surface of roads, Metcalf came to be known for road planning. In 1815 Macadam discovered a process for the construction of cheap roads with firm surface. The roads made through this process are known as Macadamised roads.

As a result of all these changes Britain came to have thousand of good roads which greatly reduced the transportation cost. In this regard France also did not lag behind and came to have an elaborate road network which was in no way inferior to the road network of England.

Improvements were also affected in the inland waterways. As heavy goods such as iron and coal could not be carried to distant places by means of roads, the people took to the use of water as a means of commu­nication.

The pioneering work in this regard was done by the Duke of Bridgewater. He employed Brindley, a great canal engineer, and designed the famous canal from Worsley to Manchester, popularly known as Bride- water Canal. The canal was opened up for traffic in 1787. A number of other canals like Mersey and Cader Canals were also dug and opened for traffic.

As a result, the industrial areas of Lancashire and Yorkshire and coalfields whose development had been hampered by the hilly character of the country due to absence of good roads and navigable rivers, were opened up for exploitation. After the arrival of the steam engine, steam boats also began to be used which revolutionized the water transport system.

In the Continent the inland navigation was known even earlier. For example, a navigable network existed from Flanders to Prussia much in advance of England.

France also undertook the task of canal building before the Revolution of 1789 and after a brief interruption during the revolution it was again resumed. Thus by the beginning of the nineteenth century France came to have large number of canals for local traffic purpose.

5. Improvements in Engineering Techniques.

In the accomplishment of the various technological changes the engineering played a vital role. The mechanical engineers particularly played an important role in the im­provement of machinery as well as its efficient use. They made use of iron and steel in place of wood to create complex machinery.

They manufac­tured the various parts of the machine with utmost skill and dexterity so that they could be easily fitted and work accurately. One of the outstand­ing invention of these mechanical engineers was the steam engine about which we have already referred.

It was mainly due to the efforts of these engineers that the machines could be operated economically and smoothly. The contributions made by the civil engineers were no less significant. It was chiefly due to the improvement in communication and transportation effected by the civil engineers that concentration of indus­tries and large scale production could be possible.

6. Improvement in Chemical Industry.

The revolutionary changes, specially in the cotton textile industry, necessitated the corresponding j development of the chemical industry. As the old method of bleaching was so slow, an improvement was called for to meet the requirements of the fast growing cotton industry.

In 1746 and 1749 Roebuck set up two j works where oil of vitroil was used successfully. This was a revolutionary change which not only effected the bleaching process but the entire textile industry.

Further improvements in the bleaching techniques reduced the j duration of this process to few days rather than months. It is indeed j difficult to imagine that the cotton textile industry could have flourished, ] as it did, in the absence of the discovery of quick process of bleaching. By I the close of the eighteenth and beginning of the nineteenth century I considerable progress had also been made in the dyeing and printing industries which led to remarkable improvement in the cotton textile industry.

Thus we find that the various changes in the techniques of production were interrelated and interdependent and one led to the other. However, it is difficult to arrange the changes in the various industries in a chrono­logical order or according to their importance. Each change was in itself significant and stimulated other changes while it was in itself stimulated by some other changes.

Mrs Knowles highlights the interdependence of these changes’ and says that “in the first place the development of engi­neering took place. The engineers were required to make and repair the steam engines, to make machinery for the textiles, to make machinery for lifting coal out of the pit, to make machine tools and locomotives.” Unless iron was cast in large quantities, the engineers could not get the material on which to work.

Therefore, a revolution in iron-making was necessary. The third change came with the application of mechanical devices to the textiles. This provided an impetus to the development of chemical indus­try because the bleaching, dyeing, finishing or printing processes had to be transformed in accordance with the changed conditions.

As the engineer­ing, iron founding, textiles and chemical industries hinged on coal it led to greater emphasis on the exploitation of coal. Finally, all the above de­velopments which led to mass scale production of machinery, iron and coal, etc. demanded the development of better means of transportation and communication. Better means of transportation and communication were also needed for the transport of the raw materials and the food etc. for the factories and the workers in the towns.

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